Backcountry and Backwoods

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BACKCOUNTRY AND BACKWOODS. The term "backwoodsman" became common when pioneers began advancing the frontier into and beyond the mountains of Pennsylvania, Virginia, and the Carolinas, regions which came to be known to the coastal states as the back-country. For generations after the great westward movement began (about 1769–1770), this backcountry, comprising the present Middle West, West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, and other inland areas farther south, was predominantly forest. Until 1800 few roads fit for wheeled vehicles existed, and most people traveled by water or by mere horse trail. There were still only a few small cleared areas in southwestern Virginia (present-day Kentucky) when, in 1776, the settlers chose two agents to ask for protection of Virginia. As a result, Kentucky County was created, and in 1777 it sent two burgesses to the Virginia legislature.

During the American Revolution backwoodsmen under George Rogers Clark took Kaskaskia (July) and Vincennes (December)—both in Illinois—from the British in 1778. In Tennessee they first organized the Watauga Association and then the State of Franklin. An undisciplined but efficient army of backwoodsmen defeated Maj. Patrick Ferguson's force at the Battle of King's Mountain, in western North Carolina. Later, under their idol, Andrew Jackson, they fought the Creek War and won the Battle of New Orleans. Their prowess in war bred in them a group consciousness and pride. On Jackson's inauguration as president in 1829, the backwoodsmen flocked to Washington and made the occasion, including the White House reception, so turbulent and uproarious that old Federalists and Whigs thought the era of mob rule had come. During that period the word "backwoodsman" acquired a disgraceful connotation that it never afterward lost.


Clark, Thomas Dionysius. Frontier America: The Story of the Westward Movement. 2d ed. New York: Scribners, 1969.

Roosevelt, Theodore. The Winning of the West. In Works. New York: Scribners, 1923–1926.

Alvin F.Harlow/c. w.

See alsoClark's Northwest Campaign ; Franklin, State of ; New Orleans, Battle of ; Revolution, American: Military History ; Westward Migration .